- Caddies say they were human billboards for corporate sponsors
- Judge calls antitrust arguments in class action `implausible'
A lawsuit by professional golf caddies who want pay for wearing endorsement bibs for corporate sponsors was called “weak” by a federal judge.
U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria said at a hearing Thursday in San Francisco that the caddies presented “implausible” antitrust arguments in their February complaint seeking a share of endorsements valued at $50 million a year from the PGA Tour Inc.
“There’s little question in my mind that you have a weak case,” Chhabria told lawyers for the several dozen caddies who sued, whose bosses have included Greg Norman and Zach Johnson.
The caddies alleged that being forced to wear the bibs, without pay, has made them free billboards for sponsors in a sport that rakes in $1 billion annually.
The claims echo those of college athletes who sued the National Collegiate Athletic Association to share in annual broadcast revenue. Though the college players haven’t won compensation beyond the cost of their education, a federal appeals court affirmed in September that the NCAA is subject to antitrust law.
Chhabria said he was skeptical the caddies’ lawyers had described the bibs as a distinct, separate market for advertising required to bring an antitrust claim. The bib ad space isn’t so distinguishable from television ads that sports companies might buy during golf tournaments, the judge said.
"I don’t buy the idea that the act of a player wearing a logo on his shirt during a tournament, or a caddie wearing a logo on his shirt during a tournament, is different from, or not interchangeable with, any number of forms of endorsement that can take place in the world of golf," Chhabria said.
Chris Gadoury, a lawyer for the caddies, argued television advertising isn’t a substitute for the advertising space on bibs because viewers often record and fast-forward through television advertisements.
“Their eyeballs are on this advertising during match play,” Gadoury said, referring to the bibs.
The judge said the caddies might stand a better chance with their claim that they control the commercial use of their identities. Chhabria dismissed a trademark rights claim.
The case is Hicks v. PGA Tour Inc., 15-cv-00489, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).